As you recall from our last post, Peter begins the dialogue in Matthew 18:21-35 with a question regarding how many times he is required to forgive his brother in the new kingdom, suggesting seven times would be quite generous. Jesus answers that seventy times seven would be more appropriate basically saying there is no limit. Jesus then launches into another, “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to…” parable and describes the scene.
A certain servant owed the king the equivalent of 150,000 years of wages. The servant in question requested patience from the king and more time to repay. The servant was essentially asking for some way to refinance the debt. But the king, moved with compassion, set any idea of refinancing aside and, at what we can assume was a great expense to the king, completely forgave the tremendous debt. Then servant #1 seeks out a fellow servant who owes him a small amount of money. He physically attacks his fellow servant demanding immediate repayment of the paltry debt. The total lack of compassion shown by servant #1 turns the king’s heart from compassion to anger and servant #1 is turned over to the bad guys. Jesus summarizes the point of the story in verse 35, “So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
This parable is a window into how God expects citizens of His kingdom to treat each other. We are servant #1 and we have a debt that is so large we have no hope of paying it back. It is the debt of our sin. At great expense to the king – in our case the invaluable death of His Son on a cross – we have been forgiven our enormous debt. In response to God’s immense and undeserved forgiveness, we are to forgive our brothers. Jesus answers Peter’s question with a dramatic story to make the point that we are to follow God’s example of unending love and forgiveness in how treat each other. We are to go beyond just treating our neighbor as we would like to be treated, we are to love our neighbor in the way God loves us.
The kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven is now the kingdom of love. Love is the aura of the kingdom of God. It flows from God Himself, from God’s love for His children. And it flows like a rushing stream through us to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35).
We often fail to notice the significance of the new in this commandment. The commandment to love is a new aspect of the new kingdom. It was not the aura of the old covenant (see our last post). Love is the everything of the new covenant. Jesus taught it in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament unwraps what love looks like in practice. Paul, Peter, John, James, and the other New Testament writers elevate the supremacy of love over knowledge, giftedness, and even good works.
The kingdom of God has become the kingdom of love. And we imitate God Himself when we are “…kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you.” (Eph 4:32).